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Fingerprints to lock up laptops

A desktop security company takes its technology mobile with the launch of a fingerprint scanner for notebooks and handhelds.

DigitalPersona plans to announce on Tuesday a fingerprint scanner for laptops and handhelds that doubles as a jog dial.

The desktop security company plans to sell the scanner, named the U-are-U Firefly, to laptop and personal digital assistant makers that want to allow users to protect their data with a fingerprint scan.

"It is an effective use of real estate," said Harvey Bondar, vice president of marketing for the DigitalPersona. "It is an inexpensive approach for a device manufacturer who wants to include" security using a biometric, unique signature created from physical human characteristics such as a fingerprint or a voiceprint.

Fingerprint scanners typically use a flat sensor made of silicon or glass, depending on whether the device uses electrical differences or an optical image, respectively, to create a biometric. DigitalPersona specializes in using optical sensors to characterize fingerprints.

Bondar said that laptop makers will likely be the first to venture into using the new roller-style sensor, which is smaller than a 9-volt battery and can also be used as a jog dial for navigation, in their products.

"I think it is going to be huge need in the laptop market," he said. "In the PDA market, it might be used for portals into the corporate network. And as wireless technologies become more sophisticated, it will find its way into cell phones."

A notebook computer made by Gateway makes an appearance in photos modeling the new hardware device, but Bondar said that no agreement with the PC maker has been signed.

"Gateway has provided the laptops for the prototypes," he said. "They are a channel partner."

MicronPC launched a line of laptops last year with embedded fingerprint scanners. Such laptops are frequently required by government customers.

Other mobile devices will likely take off more slowly, Bondar said. The company hasn't yet developed all the software for handheld device applications, but the executive said doing so would not be difficult.

DigitalPersona will show off the new device at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in New Orleans.